JUL 17, 2019 6:32 PM PDT

Are Calluses Good for Your Feet?

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Sandal season brings with it the expectation of perfectly manicured feet. Humans go to extraordinary lengths to remove foot calluses, from pumice stones and shaving devices to chemical peel treatments. But, have you ever wondered why our feet develop calluses or how shoes compare to their evolutionary purpose?

Calluses—the evolutionary solution to foot protection—are thickened and hardened areas of the foot’s epidermis. Shoes are a relatively new invention. They were not thickly cushioned nor widely available to the general population due to expense until the Industrial Revolution. Until then, most humans walked barefoot or wore non-cushioned sandals or moccasins. 

Modern footwear is undoubtedly a successful and useful invention. However, scientists were curious if humans’ natural adaptation of calluses differs than shoes in tactile sensitivity, or as Kristiaan D’Aout defines it in Nature, “the sensation of the ground beneath our feet.” Preserving tactile sensitivity of feet is essential to athletes such as gymnasts; those with illnesses that impact their balance; or older people whose balance and vision are in decline. Certain diseases, such as diabetes or other medical conditions which may cause low circulation and nerve damage, can also decline foot sensitivity.

Which is better at sensing and improving contact on slippery, abrasive, uncomfortable or harmful surfaces—shoes or calluses? The research team measured calluses (using ultrasound) of 100 adults from Kenya and the United States. Those that reported normally walking barefoot had calluses that were 30% thicker than those who reported wearing shoes most often. 

Through a series of tests on foot mechanoreceptors and the forces caused by walking, the researchers discovered that calluses protect your feet while walking, without disrupting your ability to feel the ground. Cushioned shoes provide more protection but compromise your sense of connection to the ground. Also, cushioned shoes deliver more force to other joints, such as the knee. Co-author Daniel Lieberman told Healthday reporters, “the load is basically delivered to the knees,” and that it is worth investigating if modern footwear is contributing to knee or other joint arthritis.

The authors are careful to mention that they are not promoting barefoot living, especially for those with medical conditions which require specific foot protection. Lieberman stated, “I’m not anti-shoe, and I’m not telling people to run around barefoot.” He simply wants humans to reconsider our views on unsightly calluses.

Sources: Nature, Nature (2), Healthday
 

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
OCT 15, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Gene Variants Influence Aging and Mobility in the Elderly
OCT 15, 2020
Gene Variants Influence Aging and Mobility in the Elderly
Small changes in a gene that is involved in controlling the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine could influence how ...
OCT 22, 2020
Immunology
Migraines: Dark Times and (Pharmaceutical) Rays of Hope
OCT 22, 2020
Migraines: Dark Times and (Pharmaceutical) Rays of Hope
Despite being commonly used interchangeably, headaches and migraines are worlds apart. Migraines are by far much more pr ...
OCT 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How a Gene Variant Raises the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
OCT 22, 2020
How a Gene Variant Raises the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
Now that sequencing the whole human genome is easier, faster, and cheaper than it used to be, scientists have been able ...
OCT 26, 2020
Cancer
Investigating the Receptor Protein FPR1 in Brain Cancer
OCT 26, 2020
Investigating the Receptor Protein FPR1 in Brain Cancer
Amongst the more common targets for cancer therapies are cell surface receptors. These receptors are proteins – us ...
OCT 29, 2020
Cardiology
Treating Cardiovascular Calcification at the Source
OCT 29, 2020
Treating Cardiovascular Calcification at the Source
The term cardiovascular disease covers a broad array of health problems. Everyone tends to think of heart attacks or hyp ...
OCT 28, 2020
Microbiology
Immune Cells Link Gum Disease to Inflammatory DIsorders
OCT 28, 2020
Immune Cells Link Gum Disease to Inflammatory DIsorders
Scientists and clinicians know that oral health and inflammation, which is a part of many diseases, are connected.
Loading Comments...